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What about jnana?

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What about jnana?
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10/5/11 8:35 AM
I like the way this board and the hardcore dharma movement is focused on practical mysticism, but does philosophical understanding have a role to play as well?

If one is pursuing the meditative path, does practising jnana-yoga by trying to improve conceptual understanding of the universe, mind and reality help? Or does it just stir up the mind and ruin meditation?

I would love to hear your experiences and opinions on this.

Love,
Conor

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/5/11 5:28 PM as a reply to Conor O'Higgins.
I don't know what specifically one does in jnana-yoga, but, in my opinion, philosophizing definitely has it's place in hardcore/pragmatic dharma/practical mysticism. But only to the extent that it informs and empowers practice.

The Buddha talked about the Noble Eightfold Path. This model have eight factors, where all of the factors have the prefix "right" (e.g. Right Concentration, Right View, Right Effort, etc.). This clearly calls for reflecting on what "right" means for each of the factors.

Not to say that anyone claiming to be a part of any of those "movements" does not indulge in philosophizing that is strictly theoretical and without practical application.

NOTE: Of course one could choose to use a definition of "philosophical understanding" that inherently excludes practical application.

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/5/11 6:31 PM as a reply to Stian Gudmundsen Høiland.
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland:

The Buddha talked about the Noble Eightfold Path. This model have eight factors, where all of the factors have the prefix "right" (e.g. Right Concentration, Right View, Right Effort, etc.). This clearly calls for reflecting on what "right" means for each of the factors.


Also good to note that the first "step" in the eightfold path is Right (or wise) View which refers to having at least a basic understanding of dharma (4 noble truths, 3 characteristics, etc).

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/6/11 5:06 AM as a reply to Conor O'Higgins.
As to theory, there is a lot of theory about all sorts of aspects of meditation, some more helpful at various times than others, but the key is that if you practice well, this is the essential thing.

In Burma, I am told, the relatively uneducated locals who come to meditate are prone to having a lot of faith but not much in terms of theory, but they have a great tendency to follow the instructions of the monks and tend to lap the Westerners who come and think and theorize and try to innovate and end up making much slower progress.

The direct insights are the key, the direct experiences, and if you have the practice to produce those, great, then theory may help you clarify what is what and teach it better and find it more interesting. If you don't practice well, theory is of no particular value, as it is like talking about the beach vs laying on the beach: laying on the beach is much better.

If you have some theory and it helps you personally practice better, navigate some territory well that you would have otherwise been thrown by, improve your technique, investigate things you otherwise wouldn't have, etc., then that is of value. If it doesn't, then it is of little value. It often will cause problems if misapplied, where as simple techniques of investigation are more reliable for doing something useful.

Helpful?

Daniel

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/6/11 8:33 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel, thanks for your reply, but I wasn't really talking about theoretical understanding of meditation practise. I was talking about theoretical understanding of reality.

What is mind?
What is reality?
Did the universe have a beginning?
Does the universe have a purpose?
Is there free will?

My question: does working out a theoretical/ logical/ philosophical/ conceptual understanding of such questions help or hinder meditation practice?

Two beautiful minds working on this sort of yoga:
http://anandavala.info/
http://kheper.net/

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/6/11 8:59 PM as a reply to Conor O'Higgins.
This is from Thanissaro Bhikkhu's freely distributed book of eight dharma talks organized around the teaching of not-self "Selves and Not-Self"

he explains the buddha's perspective on questions of the nature of reality, sorry about the formatting


The first point is that the Buddha’s teaching was strategic, aimed at leading to
a specific goal: total freedom in the minds of his listeners. The second point is
that, as part of this larger strategy, the Buddha had strategic reasons for putting
questions of the existence or non-existence of the self aside.
Part of his teaching strategy was to divide questions into four types, based on
how they should be best approached for the purpose of putting an end to
suffering and stress [§9]. The first type includes those that deserve a categorical
answer: in other words, a straight “yes” or “no,” “this” or “that,” with no
exceptions. The second type includes questions that deserve an analytical answer,
in which the Buddha would reanalyze the question before answering it. The third
type includes questions that deserve a counter-question. In other words, he
would question the questioner before answering the original question. And the
fourth type includes questions that deserve to be put aside as useless—or even
harmful—in the quest to put an end to suffering. And, as I said, the questions, “Is
there a self? Is there no self?” are ones he put aside.
Here’s the passage where he explains why:

“Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on
arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of
friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side. As he was
sitting there he asked the Blessed One, ‘Now then, master Gotama, is
there a self?’ When this was said, the Blessed One was silent. ‘Then is there
no self?’ The second time the Blessed One was silent. Then Vacchagotta
the wanderer got up from his seat and left.
“Then not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Venerable
finanda said to the Blessed One, ‘Why, Lord, did the Blessed One not
answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?’”
And here’s the Buddha’s response: “finanda, if I, being asked by
Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer that there is a
self, that would be conforming with those brahmans and contemplatives
who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal,
unchanging soul]. If I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is
no self were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming
with those brahmans and contemplatives who are exponents of
annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of the self]. If I,
being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer
that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge
that all phenomena are not-self?”
And Venerable finanda said, “No, Lord.”
Then the Buddha said, “And if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the
wanderer if there is no self, were to answer that there is no self, the
bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the
self that I used to have now not exist?’” — SN 44:10


here is another passage


(...) it’s useful to look at the Buddha’s approach to teaching—
and to questions—in general. Once he was walking through a forest with a
group of monks. He stooped down to pick up a handful of leaves and told the
monks that the leaves in his hand were like the teachings he had given. As for
the leaves in the forest, they were like the knowledge he had gained in his
awakening. The leaves in his hand covered just two issues: how suffering is
caused and how it can be ended [§1].
After his awakening, the Buddha could have talked about anything at all, but
he chose to talk on just these two topics. To understand his teachings, we have to
understand not only what he said about suffering and its end, but also why these
topics were of utmost importance.
The purpose of his teachings was to help people find true happiness.


and another

The Buddha understood that the issues of our life are defined by our
questions. A question gives a context to the knowledge contained in its answer—
a sense of where that knowledge fits and what it’s good for. Some questions are
skillful in that they provide a useful context for putting an end to suffering,
whereas others are not. Once, one of the Buddha’s monks came to see him and
asked him a list of ten questions, the major philosophical questions of his time.
Some of the questions concerned the nature of the world, whether it was eternal
or not, finite or not; others concerned the nature and existence of the self. The
Buddha refused to answer any of them, and he explained the reason for his
refusal. He said it was as if a man had been shot by an arrow and was taken to a
doctor, and before the doctor could take the arrow out, the man would insist
that he find out first who had shot the arrow, who had made the arrow, what
the arrow was made of, what kind of wood, what kind of feathers. As the
Buddha said, if the doctor tried to answer all of those questions, the man would
die first. The first order of business would be to take the arrow out [§3]. If the
person still wanted to know the answer to those questions, he could ask
afterwards.


the point is, that type of question doesn't lead to the end of suffering, and if such questions do have any value, their value isn't nearly as great as those questions which do lead to the end of suffering

to answer your question directly, that type of question doesn't help meditation practice, and it likely could hinder such practice by presenting numerous "red herrings"

if you find yourself addicted to thinking about stuff and not practicing (as i do) then you can promise yourself to look at these questions after ending suffering, that usually helps me.

RE: What about jnana?
Answer
10/7/11 3:04 AM as a reply to josh r s.
What a great answer!